Gonzales, Emily

Gonzales, Emily

Name: Emily Gonzales
E-mail: Emily.C.Gonzales.58@nd.edu
Language: French
Location of Study: Paris, France
Program of Study: Alliance Française Paris Ile-de-France
Sponsors: Center for the Study of Languages and Cultures, Nanovic Institute for European Studies

A brief personal bio:

Over the past several years, my curiosity for culture and the study of languages has quickly flourished into an unexpected passion. My major, Romance Languages and Literatures, allows me to study Spanish and French and I aspire to use fluency as a means of connecting with individuals in developing countries. I have studied Spanish for the past seven years and have only recently begun my commitment to French. My interests in art, dance, literature, and culture continue to fuel my eclectic spirit. Currently an undergraduate sophomore, I have discerned interests in international relations, selected a Minor in Latin American Studies, and work as a student assistant for the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

Why this summer language abroad opportunity is important to me:

The SLA Grant will allow me to achieve French language acquisition and cultural competency. I believe that fully owning the French language is a necessity for my international aspirations. I am interested in exploring social change through the roles of nongovernmental organizations in nurturing sustainable development, respect for human rights, conflict resolution and the promotion of social justice. Recently, I have decided to mix my study of languages with international peace and development studies. I aspire to work for a nonprofit or NGO such as UNICEF in the future or begin postgraduate studies in international law. Thus only through opportunities abroad will I be able to secure my knowledge of the French language and discern the future of my unique language passion.

What I hope to achieve as a result of this summer study abroad experience:

With the SLA Grant I will expand and solidify my knowledge of the French language and culture through direct immersion in Paris, France. I am determined to master the language and gain fluency that matches my level in Spanish. My major allows me to experience both languages and cultures through coursework and it is imperative that I reach the same level of confidence in each language. I will complete four semesters of French in one academic year before traveling to France this summer, thus my personal dedication combined with the SLA Grant will greatly improve my fluency. Studying in France for 8 weeks this summer will also prepare me for my study abroad experience in Dakar, Senegal during the 2016 spring semester. I intend to gain confidence in my French skills enough to allow me to feel comfortable in the francophone environment and diverse culture. My open mind and determination for language acquisition will inspire me to put the SLA award to great use.

My specific learning goals for language and intercultural learning this summer:

  1. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to communicate in French with native speakers using both formal and informal speech and develop a well rounded bank of vocabulary.
  2. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will gain confidence in living in a francophone environment and prepare myself for additional study abroad exposure in Dakar, Senegal during the 2016 spring semester.
  3. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to speak, read, write and listen at a level of proficiency equal to two semesters beyond my current French placement at Notre Dame and reach the Advanced French I level or higher as tested by the CIEE Study Center in Dakar, Senegal.
  4. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will develop the skills necessary to analyze both classic and modern French literature that will inspire my future study upon return to Notre Dame.
  5. At the end of my summer study abroad, I will be able to demonstrate cultural adaptability and willingness to take intercultural risks by engaging in cultural and linguistic interactions that are well beyond my level of comfort. 

My plan for maximizing my international language learning experience:

Located in the heart of Paris, the Alliance Française Paris Ile-de-France (AFPIF) draws on an action-based procedure meaning that projects are created to coincide with situations encountered in Parisian daily life. I have chosen the afternoon Intensive General French course due to the emphasis on developing communication skills and my knowledge of French civilization in conjunction with grammar and vocabulary. The course promotes an individualized curriculum progression that will focus on my unique needs with the language. I will complete 20 hours of the Intensive General French course each week. Additionally, the school grants me free use of the Multimedia Resource Center (CRM) containing authentic French materials to enhance my oral communication, phonetics and vocabulary building. With valuable use of the CRM in conjunction with my afternoon Intensive General French course, my French pronunciation will greatly improve over the eight weeks time. I will also encounter audio and video material, multimedia resources, national and regional press articles, documentaries, and songs involved with the teaching methods of my course. Outside of the classroom, I will engage in as much authentic interaction as possible. I will take full advantage of the fifteen sponsored cultural activities that are available for me to experience free of charge each month. I will also be living with a host family and will be introduced to Parisian daily life through direct immersion.

Reflective Journal Entry 1: 

It is truly incredible to realize that I have been in Paris, France for a week now. I have faced many challenges thus far starting from my arrival in the rather enormous Charles de Gaulle Airport where I encountered true French immersion for the first time. I called and waited for a Paris Shuttle along with other new arrivals like myself and enjoyed my first glimpses of the city as the driver approached my host family’s home. I am not at all accustomed to large cities nor to the fast paced lifestyle that accompanies them. Therefore, I tried greatly to begin observing and taking note of differences and ways that I could adapt. I have realized that the things that seem commonplace to the Parisians here truly fascinate me. I quickly began reading every billboard, road sign, or document in sight and listening to French conversations, radio and television when possible.

Before I knew it, I approached 100 rue Lauriston with my suitcase and my jet-lagged yet persistent eagerness to meet my French family. From the moment I entered her apartment, my host mother took me in with a warm welcome and made me feel very much at home. She, along with her six year old daughter, is very patient with me and my intermediate French abilities. I have already learned much from their helpful corrections and conversations. Staying with a French family has been a great decision because my language learning remains continuous. In fact, my French sister doesn’t hesitate to correct my French and even provides me with French pronunciation and reading lessons. She also improves my knowledge of French animated films, cartoons, and miscellaneous TV dramas that involve some quite hilarious commercial breaks. I am able to learn French in a variety of unique contexts that include both adult and child vocabularies and my coursework material. My studies at La Alliance Française have gone very well thus far and I enjoy the diversity, books, and teaching style that the school has to offer. I have also made great use of their Media and Resource Center, which provides me with endless reading materials. The school lies in the heart of Paris and therefore I am fortunate enough to observe and learn from the beautiful culture around me.

My observations have led me to take note of several cultural differences. Therefore, not only have I been challenged with language differences, I have also experienced quite a few embarrassing cultural and structural mistakes. Specifically, doors with handles are pushed open, keys are turned to the left when unlocking doors, light switches are pressed down when turned on, computer keyboards have a different letter arrangement, and white copy paper is a fair amount longer than I am used to. Additionally, there are the bathrooms. Les toilettes are quite tiny, include no mirror, have small trashcans if any, and no sink. (For some reason I have been rather proficient at getting myself locked in these tiny bathrooms for reasons unknown to me.) By no means do I find these differences negative but I view them as rather the opposite. I love encountering a different viewpoint and especially one that is expressed in a different language.

Reflective Journal Entry 2:

Another tremendous week has passed here in Paris, France and I have grown rather comfortable with my new lifestyle. I do not feel constantly lost on the winding streets and have even provided tourists with directions from time to time. I continually put my level of French to the test by speaking with shop keepers and any other natives I find along the way. I have explored the ends and outs of my section of Paris, the 16th district, and I absolutely adore the life and vibrancy that I am able to see each day. It is truly incredible for me to have the chance to walk to school each day, passing by the Eiffel Tower and over the breathtaking Alexander III Bridge. I prefer to walk to class each morning, rather than taking the metro, because I am able to see the morning life of a big city while having the chance to overhear French conversations and read signs. It is not everyday that I get to experience life in a large French speaking city, so I will certainly continue to take advantage of it.

At La Alliance Française, the change in month brought out a change in professor for me and the addition of several new classmates from various parts of the world. I find the course material challenging and the level of intelligence of the students astounds me. However, coming from a university like Notre Dame, I feel very well prepared for each class and am inspired by the other students to keep my head focused on my schoolwork. My professor takes topics that I thought I knew well and focuses on the details to make sure that I know things even better. I have grown accustomed to only speaking in French in and outside of class but by no means has speaking in French become easier for me. I still struggle greatly to keep up with the rhythm of native speakers and to imitate the correct pronunciation. I want more than anything to speak as well as my host mother, professor, the store clerks and even my six year old French sister and therefore I must remain determined to reach that level of fluency.

Along with testing my language limits this past week, I also managed to test my level of dance. Before arriving at Notre Dame my freshman year, I did not have any experience with dance at all; however, now a committed member of the Ballroom and Latin Dance club, I adore all types of dance and therefore chose to seek out dance studios here in Paris. I will be studying abroad in Francophone Africa during the spring semester of 2016 and therefore I have much interest in learning the various forms of African dance and particularly those of Dakar, Senegal. I believe that fate led me to discover the Centre Mombye in the 20th district of Paris because coincidently enough this is one of the only African dance studios in Paris and happens to be located rather close to my home here. I attended a two hour Sabar dance class, the traditional dance of Dakar, and I left the studio completely in awe of what I had seen and managed to do. I learned this traditional Senegalese dance through French instruction along with other willing French speaking dancers of the class and the dance itself is truly spectacular. Not only was I able to practically put my French skills to good use by learning a dance but I was also able to get a taste of the culture that I will soon be immersed in this coming spring.

Reflective Journal Entry 3:

After my third week in Paris, I have fully embraced the multicultural atmosphere of the city. There exist many things to see and do here, but I have not let these opportunities distract me from my goal of learning the language. At La Alliance Française, I attend a four hour intensive French class each day with students from Chile, Cuba, Columbia, China, Vietnam, Iraq, India, Monte Negro, London, Greece, and the United States. We only speak French inside and outside of the classroom because of our determination to gain fluency and because French is the only language that connects each one of us. I have seen myself gaining confidence with my speaking and pronunciation skills and this comes from the practice I have put in thus far. I still have a long way to go in my fluency, but our constant spontaneous oral exercises in the class have helped me greatly. I find our class activities and homework practical and entertaining; for example, my professor encourages our class to involve current events in our writings but also to use our imaginations with other exercises.

Each day I enjoy learning at La Alliance Française, chatting with other students, talking with vendors at small shops, and spending the evening with my host mother and sister because each of which tests yet aids my level of French. Once again I combined my passion for French with that of dance, for I ventured a few streets over to attend a Salsa class. I find it very interesting to compare the dance instruction that I’m used to with the French version and although the language changes the moves remain the same. As with the African dance class I attended last week, I admit that I was a little timid before trying the class with Parisians, but I cannot be happier with the experiences I have had with both. In each class I have been treated like any other dancer and have more importantly always felt welcome. I’m sure that my accent still gives me away as an American; therefore I am elated when the natives speak to me in French and do not switch to English if they know both. The majority of the people I have met here are rather patient with me and always seem to be willing to help me out. I am very grateful for this.

In addition to the experiences that I have outside of school and home, I have had many learning experiences staying in with my host family. It’s incredible just how much one can learn from an almost seven year old girl fluent in the language you hope to master. I babysat my French sister and her friend for a night this past weekend and used that opportunity to learn from a different perspective than usual. I very much appreciate the chance to learn conversational French at home, artistic French at the Louvre, and religious French at the Notre Dame Cathedral. I will continue to immerse myself in different situations to learn even more from the Parisians I encounter.

Reflective Journal Entry 4:

I now rest at the half way point of my time spent in France and I do not wish to think about leaving anytime soon. My experiences have been enriching, thought provoking and challenging and I look forward to even more learning opportunities. I found this past week in particular rather challenging at La Alliance Française for good reasons, for I completed an oral proficiency exam as well as written test at the institute to gauge my progress and current French level. I do not think that I could have selected a better institute than La Alliance Française because the school focuses on my progression and makes sure that I am getting the most out of my course. Therefore, this past Thursday I completed the level B1.2 proficiency test which included listening, writing, reading, and oral components. I received the mastery competence score (highest) in listening and conversational communication and the general competence score (second highest) in reading, presentational speech, and writing. This analysis has allowed me to discern what I need to work on in particular but also shows me what I have done well with. Therefore, during the remaining weeks, I will focus on bettering my competence in writing, reading, and presentational speaking. Nevertheless, I have learned that I am able to move onto level B2 this coming week and I look forward to this opportunity for progression.

I have grown very comfortable with using French at all times and this past Sunday I was able to meet other exchange students while putting my French to the test with locals. I visited Le cemetière du Père Lachaise accompanied by other Parisians hoping to learn more about this famous burial site of celebrities, singers, authors, and beloved community members. Tierry le roi, our enthusiastic, wise, and encouraging tour guide brought life to the historic site by unloading information about numerous celebrities laid to rest there: Balzac, Piaf, Salvador, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Montand Signoret, Baschung, etc. The insightful and occasionally humorous three hour French tour captivated me and the tour guide even made the tour interactive for me. Since I was one of only two Americans in the tour group, he asked me questions to survey my knowledge of French stars or authors and I really appreciated his efforts to make sure I understood. Overall, the tour provided me with the experience to stretch my language and cultural limits.

Reflective Journal Entry 5:

My past week at La Alliance Française brought with it a change in course level to B2. In accordance with the Cadre européen commun de reference (CECR), B2 marks the level of independence and is the 4th level out of 6. The sixth level (C2) is that of autonomy and mastery. During this past week, I certainly saw a change in pace of the class but managed to keep up rather well. Each class period we practiced the primary areas of listening, reading, writing, and speaking as we did in B1; however, this week the listening exercises increased in speed and the reading increased in length. Although this level is more challenging, I am happy to be placed in this course for the remainder of my time in Paris. I’m determined to remain focused and to make the most out of my class time in order to fully take advantage of my resources at La Alliance Française.

In addition, I benefited from the nice weather and collection of French books that I have acquired by spending some afternoons at the Jardin de Luxemburg. I really appreciate just simply being in Paris and having the opportunity to be surrounded by nice people, beautiful scenery, good francophone literature, and most importantly the French language. When I speak to locals in French, fewer and fewer people ask the question “Where are you from?” which gives me confidence that my American accent has become less and less prominent. By no means do I expect for people to take me for a French woman, but my goal at the end of my eight weeks here is to obtain the rhythm, fluency, and confidence of one. This past week in particular I have tried to improve my accent and study French pronunciation even deeper. I am certain that verbal communication is my weakest area in French and this is due to pronunciation errors. Therefore, I have been spending extra time asking my French host mom and sister for advice as well as my professor at La Alliance Française.

I have grown comfortable thinking and speaking in French without much hesitation. I owe this to my host family for always keeping me on my toes at home and allowing me to make mistakes so often. Constant practice with the other students outside of class has also allowed me to grow and I will continue to seek out more opportunities for communication.

Reflective Journal Entry 6:

Yet another week has passed and I have grown very content with the connections that I have made here and with my improvement in French. Each day I grow more and more attached to the language. I simply love listening to anything from French songs to metro conversations and have utilized every opportunity for improvement. During class I have grown much more comfortable participating and have adapted to the quicker pace of the B2 level. The professor keeps me on my toes during each class and I very much enjoy this teaching style. What I seem to enjoy most of all at La Alliance Française are the conversations that I have with students of different nationalities. Our in class topics have varied from country specific politics, health standards, media influences, and much more. Outside of class we discuss cultural and societal differences that I find truly fascinating. The only connection I have with some students is the French language and this I have found is enough of a starting point.

Over the weekend, two other Notre Dame students were able to visit me in Paris and we were determined to make the most of their time here. They are participating in SLA funded programs in Tours, France and therefore we kept the French learning alive by speaking only in French during their stay. Exploring Paris together and spending an entire morning and afternoon in Le musee d’Orsay was a great learning experience for all of us. We discussed the differences we found between our francophone cities and I enjoyed learning from their different perspectives.

Additionally, this past week I have realized how well I have become acquainted with the locals in Paris. I take the same path everyday that I walk to school, passing by the same shop owners and businessmen and women out for their morning coffee. Every other day I stop at a Boulangerie close to my home to buy croissants and baguettes for my host family and have formed a nice relationship with the woman owner. Each time I see her, she expresses how much she would like to help me with my French learning and offers me helpful tips for improvement. I receive many corrections from the locals and I appreciate every one of them.

Reflective Journal Entry 7:

After spending a summer studying in Paris, I have noticed changes in my level of French but also in my level of self confidence. Before my departure to France, I remember feeling excited yet nervous about my imminent experiences in a foreign country. I had never before traveled without the guidance of my parents, so I prepared myself for challenges. Upon my arrival in Paris, I experienced language doubts and felt a bit overwhelmed by the rapid French that surrounded me. However, as time went by, I grew closer with my host mother, six year old French sister, and my peers, teachers, and staff members at la Alliance Française. In order to make myself feel comfortable, I searched for common ground. This common ground was indeed what brought me all the way to France in the first place. I began to lose my sense of nervousness or embarrassment of making mistakes and focused on my love for the language. I gained confidence with my French level enough to remove my hesitations from talking to the locals. I was able to feel at home in France and for this reason I found it difficult to part with my host family and friends. I am inspired to keep my language learning alive with the prospects of using French in my future career and of returning to Paris once again.

Reflection on my language learning and intercultural gains:

I arrived in Paris, France in late May with the hopes of improving my understanding of French grammar and pronunciation as well as expanding my vocabulary. I was both excited and determined to begin my intensive French class at La Alliance, for I was prepared to put in long hours of studying outside the course as well. However, after my first week in Paris, I discovered that in order to learn the language I had to be confident in what I knew and not stress over rules I had not yet mastered. Surprisingly for me, my learning began to flourish once I pushed the textbook to the side after class each day and simply lived in Paris. Direct immersion in the language coupled with a relaxed and opened mind allowed me to expand my French fluency without even realizing it. I had a similar experience with cultural adjustments. I adapted to the lifestyle of my French family with ease and I cannot express how fortunate I was to be paired with such an insightful family. I lived in a household of three generations of French women, all with the patience and kindness to assist me with my many mistakes. My six year old French sister as well as her lawyer mother and retired grandmother all added the spice and challenges to my language learning that I could not have done without.

Reflection on my summer language abroad experience overall:

To a prospective SLA Grant applicant I would offer encouragement to pursue a program that will challenge them and pair them with a host family. I strongly believe that my advancements in the language and level of personal confidence were due to my challenging courses at La Alliance and my constant engagement in the Paris community. During my stay in Paris I did not lose sight of my language learning goals and I continuously searched for activities that kept me engaged with the locals. I managed to feel at home in Paris after realizing that my world in the United States has many similarities to that in France and I am thankful that the city welcomed me as it did. To the next Notre Dame student who has the opportunity to do the same as I have, I would say to take chances and to explore with the hopes of finding similarities in a world that only seems so different.

How I plan to use my language and intercultural competences in the future:

I cannot express how grateful I am to have been funded by Notre Dame to gain French language and culture competency. My French immersion experiences do not stop here; for, I have been encouraged from this summer to use the language daily and in my future career. I have aspirations to do service in francophone countries abroad and I will continue to seek out opportunities to do so. Additionally, I will surely use my advancements in the language during my semester abroad in Dakar, Senegal where I will take classes in French and stay with a Senegalese host family. I look forward to gaining yet another perspective from a people and language that I have been introduced to and with which I would love to become far more acquainted.